Epping Forest District Council is planning to lean heavily on its wholly-owned development company to counteract the financial impacts of coronavirus.

Councillors discussed plans to expedite the delivery of the council-owned firm Qualis’ planned developments at a meeting earlier this week.

The council (EFDC) is aiming to deliver the schemes as early as possible to help address immediate financial pressures related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the cabinet meeting on Monday, July 20 Cllr John Philip, finance and economic development portfolio holder, said: “The financial impacts to the council are huge. There may even be an impact of up to £8 million, which if I put in context is almost the same amount as the total income that we get from council tax in a year.

“Quite frankly, if we don’t aim to be ambitious we will fail. We are facing one of the biggest challenges ever. We need to take it on.”

The council is facing coronavirus related revenue losses across the board and councillors are anxious to kick-start the district's economy after unemployment rose by 343 per cent between January and May – now standing at 4,985, (6.1 per cent of the workforce).

Car parking revenue is down 79 per cent from last year, equating to loses of £318,737 while the closure of leisure centres during lockdown has cost the council approximately £717,000.

Council tax revenue (up until the end of May) has also fallen by 3.2 per cent on the previous year.

Business rate collection has fallen off by almost 43 per cent over the same period, while unpaid commercial rents currently stand at nearly £400,000 and are likely to increase.

The estimated cost of the pandemic in total for the year 2020/21 is £6.7 million – the Government has so far provided a support grant of £1.336 million.

In response to these pressures cabinet members voted to transfer an EFDC strategic director into the role of Qualis managing director, rather than recruiting externally, to help expedite the firm’s planned development schemes.

Cabinet members also agreed to plans to accelerate the delivery of Qualis’ development schemes, including the Epping and St Johns housing, leisure centre and cinema development.

Leader of the council Cllr Chris Whitbread said: “We are working particularly hard to come up with a response to the covid crisis.

“Really important that we move these things forward. It’s very important that Qualis gets building. We want to see some action and move everything forward.”

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